Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Doubtful Dogma

Posted by Arella


One of the prevailing arguments for those who seek historical facts in order to prove Judaism’s validity is God’s revelation at Har Sinai. The claim is that there were at least six hundred thousand people who held witness to God’s recitation of the Ten (or at least of the first two) Commandments. The reason this argument is so compelling, aside from the awe inspiring claim of witnessing God firsthand, is that the other two most prominent religions, Islam and Christianity, base their beliefs on the testimony of one or two people. Though it seems as if Judaism is clearly valid for the reason that not one or two, but at least six hundred thousand held witness to God’s revelation, one who has prophecy is similarly believable. For instance, Muhammad’s claim to have held witness to an angel of God who called him the messenger of God (thereby teaching Muhammad the Koran) can theoretically be equally believable to Jesus’ teachings or Moshe’s prophecies because all are single witness’ accounts. Therefore, in order to strengthen Judaism’s validity, one would note God’s revelation to the entire Jewish nation in order to make Judaism more believable. However, though it is assumed that God directly revealed himself to the entire Jewish nation, such an assumption remains questionable (as you will see in the following blog). Consequently, if one is to solely base his or her belief in Judaism on, for example, the account of six hundred thousand Jews witnessing Hashem firsthand, Judaism’s validity remains uncertain.

“So shall you say to the Children of Israel, ‘Hashem the God of your forefathers…has dispatched me to you…Hashem has appeared to me” (Shemot 3:15-17).

“And the people believed, and they heard that Hashem had remembered the Children of Israel” (Shemot 4:31).

One of Judaism’s, or Moshe’s, pivotal moments is Hashem’s revelation at the burning bush, or sneh. Yet the only one to witness Hashem’s revelation is Moshe. Therefore, one might call such a vision a prophecy. Similarly, another pivotal moment in Jewish history is Hashem’s revelation at Har Sinai. The reason this event is considered so significant is because it proves Hashem’s existence, as well as His omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence. Yet as it says in the peshat, only Moshe went up Har Sinai to receive the luchot, and only Moshe was present at the burning bush. Additionally, as it says in the peshat, Moshe was the one to recite the Ten Commandments.

“Hashem said to him, ‘Go, descend. Then you shall ascend, you, and Aaron with you, but the Kohanim, and the people-they shall not destroy to ascend unto Hashem, lest He will make a breach against them.” Moses descended to the people and said to them. ‘God spoke all these words, to say: I am Hashem, your God…” (Shemot, 19:24-25, 20:1).

If Hashem were the one present to recite the commandments, then the peshat would be written differently. For example, after Moshe receives orders from Hashem, it should have said “and Moses said this (or it) to them”. Yet the peshat says “Moses descended to the people and said to them” (Shemot 19-25) prior to the recitation of the Ten Commandments. When the word “vayomer”, literally translated as “said”, is written in the Torah, it is an introduction to someone about to say something. Therefore, despite drash, one may interpret the “vayomer” in pasuk 25 to refer to Moshe’s repetition of God’s words in the next pasuk. Therefore, if interpreted literally, Moshe goes up to Har Sinai, alone, comes down to confront the people, and recites the Ten Commandments. Ringing a bell? This is very similar to the ways of a navi receiving prophecy: when alone, either in a trance, (or in Moshe’s case still conscious), Hashem appears to him or her, and the navi consequently communicates God’s message (in this case the Ten Commandments), to the people. Was the incident at Har Sinai Hashem’s revelation, one of Moshe’s prophecies, or both? If indeed Hashem’s revelations both at the sneh and Har Sinai (Judaism’s most pivotal moments, which often serve as proof of validity), were Moshe’s prophecies, then what makes Judaism more believable than any other religion whose main leader is also a prophet who claims to communicate between God and the people?

Rambam tries to solve this by saying that the only prophet who was ever given mitzvot (with a binding force for all future generations) was Moshe Rabbeinu. His was the only prophecy that was on the level of Torah. “Our tradition has it (Megilla 2b) that the only prophet who gave over “mitzvos”, i.e. obligations which are binding throughout all generations, was Moshe Rabbeinu” (“Nevuah”). Moshe’s claim to be considered the first and greatest of the Prophets is founded upon the fact that he introduced the worship of God among his people, and gave them the fundamentals of law. By him "direction" (Torah) was given to Israel; all later true prophets kept Israel in the same right course along the line of religious and moral development (“Prophecy”).Yet a prophecy is a prophecy, and therefore whether or not we as Jews might see Moshe’s prophecies as of equal stature of mitzvoth, how are Moshe’s prophecies more believable than Muhammad’s or Jesus’?


Bibliography:
Rambam’s commentary to mishnayos Chulin in Gid Hanoshe

Rabbi Herschel Schachter: “Torah and Nevuah”. http://www.torahweb.org/torah/2004/parsha/rsch_tzav.html

Jewish Encyclopedia: “Prophets and Prophecy”. http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=554&letter=P&search=moshe%20prophecy

47 Comments:

Blogger Yoni Krestt said...

Interesting reading of Maamad Har Sinai. I think you are correct that a careful reading implies that Moshe said the aseret hadibbrot and not Hashem (something the medrash famously picks up on). But the p'sukim clearly state that there was a national revelation as well. In particular, look at the descriptions at the beginning of perek 19. Even more compelling, though, I think is the end of perek 20. In particular note 20:19.

What does everyone else think?

November 29, 2006 9:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i love this blog because it addresses questions that i asked a lot of times in my navi class last year. yet i think the question arella asked on whether moshe's prophecies are more belivable than that of muhammad or jesus really relies and depends on your religious stand and whether your jewish identity incldues a strong aspect of faith. i personally have thought about this same question and always ask myself what makes our idea that we are the chosen people and we are following judaism the "correct" way and that we are the right religion. How do we know that we shouldnt be Muslim's they believe they are doin the right thing. So i think that this question cant be answered in a simple blog rather that it is a question that should guide each person in their development of their jewish identity and moreover each persons idea of judaism as a whole. the only way to deem moshe's prophecie as more belivable then the others is i believe due to our slighly skewed vision or bias on the topic. given youre jewish you will most likely belive moshe's prophetic incidence have more validity becase you have grown up learing that. -- iris--- shabbat shalom

November 30, 2006 6:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The reading of this beautiful Dvar torah has greatly influenced my religious beleifs. Although i dont completely agree with your questioning of the divinity of Moses' prophecies, especially in relation to the "prophecies" of Jesus or Muhammed, I was very impressed with your ability to back up your ideas with pesukim.
You proved that it was Moses, not God who told the congregation the ten commandments, but that doesnt put those prophecies in the same category of those of Jesus and Muhammed, because us Jews beleive that it was God who spoke to Moses, who was simply a middle man for the congregation, and our religion teaches us that Moses is the true prophet, and those of other relgions are false.
Of course, this is not a valid reason to beleive in a religion, but Jewish dogma teaches us that this is true.
I believe that it is necassary to question dogma's that we grew up thinking were true, and this is another example of one that many people don't understand, so i would like to thank Arella for raising this very intriguing point, and i would like to ask everyone to try to better understand some things that we grew up believing, that maybe even by the text may not be true. Of course, this is not to question our faith in God, but simply to understand our religion on a deeper and more complete level.
from
Binyamin Katz

November 30, 2006 8:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My idea is very similar or even the same as Iris's. Before you belive in anything, you must have a foundation to your belief. Personally, if I didnt belive in judisim as a whole, it would be hard for me to belive any phrophecy. Also like weve learned, the many of the prophicies were in a trance and no one else heard it. So there you have it. In order to belive somehting that you havent even heard, in order to belive this navi who is saying somehting you must belvie in the navi/ the religion. Weve even learned in Amos that he phrophosied and yes the people did belive other navim, but they didnt belive him. It all has to do with faith in the navi and furtheremore in the religion. Religion itself is based on faith, and if you dont have that faith, itll be hard to comprehend anything. Its like what weve been learning in Chumash abt Chokim. We dont understand Chokim or have a reason for them but we still believe. Likewise, when a navi phropheicies we dont have proof that what the navi is saying is right, but we belive anyway. And this is what a lot of people not only in judisim have problems with- believing when there is hard times or no reason to belive. But thats what makes relgion beutiful-devoting your life to something that you dont nesscarly need to belive in-you let your heart guide you and you jsut do.-Shira Zurndorfer

November 30, 2006 8:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ok so I also agree with Shira Z and Iris. In the middle of reading this blog, the answer that popped into my head was faith. Yes we do not know if these things happened or not, but thats what faith is. You have to believe in something and you cannot just prove everything. Also, since we are Jewish we believe that Moshe's prophecies were true. Christians believe that Jesus' prophecies are true. It depends on your religion and it depends on what you believe. I think Arella braught in a good point when she said that the ten commandments are more believable because there were more people, and with Muhammed or Jesus, it was just one persons account. I think this helps to shows that it did really happen but still you cannot prove it and you have to just believe you are right. (I no this is a bad answer because you cannot show it but that is what religion comes down to). Also, to answer if the incident at Har Sinai was one of Hashem's revelations, one of Moshes prophecies, or both, I think that it was one of Hashem's revelations. There is nothing in the Tanach like the ten commandments. Everything at Har Sinai was special and I think that Hashem made it different for a reason. Prophesies do not take 40 days and 40 nights like it did for Moshe. The ten commandments were our laws and are something so special that Hashem wants it to be different then normal prophecies, and he wanted it too reach out to all Bnei Yisroel. In regard to the Sneh-woah you really got me thinking I mean it is only Moshe who saw it so thats our only account. But that is what you have to believe happened because thats faith.

November 30, 2006 10:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oops last one was by shira moer

November 30, 2006 10:58 PM  
Anonymous Tova said...

well....theres no distinct way to asnwer the question of how moshe's profecies are more beleivable then muhammeds because that is just the basis of our jewish beleif. this is what we beelive as jews and its what we will always beelive and stand by and beelive is the only correct one. but if u ask a muslim hell say that muhammeds prophecies are the correct one and will only stand by his muslim beleifs. every religion is different and every religion beelvies strongly for their own beleifs and we as jews clearly think were right but religion is a broad span and other ppl beleive different things who we will not be able to convince. it says that moshe got these propheices in the torah and we as jews beelive that and it sounds cliche but i dont think there is a spacific reason for it...its just something we beelive. and ya thats a problem many ppl have with judaism (this also connects to what we talked about with chok in mrs kressts class) the fact that we beelive the torah in terms of moshe having got his prophecies...that who beleif system is like a chok....jewdaism is our religion so we beleive in its basis. its something that we grew up thinking but like mrs kresst sed with chok, we just have to accept it and not always look for the reason becuase ur not gonna always be able to find it. we try to figure out reeason to better understand things but as a whole we just have to have complete belief not always looking to back it up with a reason.....jewdaism as a whole is like a chok (in many aspects not all...)

oon another note:
im not exactly sure about muslims...but in terms of christians we learn in MASONS class that christians do beleive in the burning bush and our bible....christianity is a "breakoff" of jewdaism and then many other religions broke off (is like a whole religion dicision tree!!) so, just a general statement, u could look at religion as a whole and put jewdaism in the ceneter as the basis and have the other religions as the breakoff so to speak.

November 30, 2006 11:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to respond to Rabbi Krestt's comment. As I remember learning in a midrash, HAshem first read the first commandment to all of bnei yirael. However, all the jews were not on the same level as moshe and therefore "died" for a few moments. Moshe then told Hashem that he would take over and read the ten commandments so all of the Jews could listen. The reason I think that Judiasm is different than Islam and Christianity is that unlike Islam and Chrisitianity where only one person heard/saw god and there were no witnesses, in Judiasm many jews heard Hashem and therefore belived Him and recognized how powerful and almighty He is becuase they could not tolerate HIm talking. Then, the jews told the story of matan torah to their children who passed down generations and is recorded in the Torah. In judiasm, every jew alive at matan torah heard Hashem and saw the miracles of matan torah. Therefore, all following generations believed in Hashem since all of their ancestors had heard Hashem. And becuase of this, Judiasm is differnt than christianty and islam.

Amanda

November 30, 2006 11:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must confess that I have not read all of the responses to this blog, so I apologize if there is any repition in this post.
Naturally, as an Jew would, I find Moses' prophecies more compelling than either Jesus' or Mohammeds' prophecies. However, I do believe that all three "prophets" relayed similar messages. (I am going to write with the assumption that all three did exist, for there is no contemporary writing of the existance of Jesus. The only writings of Jesus's existance, aside from in Plutarch's Lives, was in the Gemara, written at a later point in time. If his prophecies were radically knew, I expect there would be some contemporanious writings - a diary, a book, a "newspaper." As to Mohammed - it is a well known fact that he was illiterate, so it is inconcivable that he wrote anything. As a result it is hard to really know what he believed.)
All three spread messages of love and how to treat others with respect. They have similar beliefs in how to worship G-d. In my readings of the New Testament as well as the Quaran, I found that dispite the fact that both religions convey messages of love, there is a belief in persecuting those who do not believe in G-d. The Quaran writes that one has a moral obligation to attack those who do not believe in Allah. Despite the fact that Muslims belive in Moses and in most of the same forefathers as ourselves, they still believe that we are the enemy, and must be converted or annihalated. It is also written that the Christians have an obligation to force conversion, ergo the Crusades. I find Judaism the most compelling in that it doesn't write that we must destroy those who of different faiths. We have no religious obligation to convert others.
Another difference in my mind was that Moshe was the least charisatic of the three prophets. This shows that people must have found his words to be more believably G-d's. One could have followed Jesus for his charisma and his appearance. He was allegedly an articulate speaker who drew large crowds. People were probably more attracted to him than his words. Similarly with Mohammed, people were attracted to his ability to speak, not necessarily his words. In this case, whether or not a prophet's words are believable is a relatively mood point to who is conveying the message.
I do think that this issue is a little to large to be covered in several paragraphs. I do realize that my arguments are not fully formulated in this post.
(Disclaimer: This blog was not meant to offend anyone of any religious belief.)
- Rebecca

December 01, 2006 10:02 AM  
Blogger tali said...

I agree with whoever talked about the leap of faith. I think a lot of nevuah and Judaism is about faith, which is an element often left out in the religious equation. However, there is also a logical and intellecutal approach to this question. Rabbi Beiler was once featured on a special about Judaism, where they asked him "How do you know Judaism is right?" and he answered, instead of being like faith, well, look at us. What other people has existed for this long historically? Look at all our enemies; plishtim, gone, Greeks, gone, Romans, gone, Egyptians, gone in the sense. Our people is the only one that has stood the test of time. I think this also supports the whole idea of nevuah; why have we lasted for so long if it really was only just a hoax? Why would these stories stick? Nevuahs and Tanach are ways to Divinely support our beliefs, and keep our culture alive.

-Tali

December 01, 2006 10:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As many of you said, this does really have to do with ones faith. Whenever you discuss religion with someone of a different faith, it’s like it’s just your word against theirs. You can try and try to convince them that you are right, but ultimately, you’re going to go in circles (that is if each of you has a strong enough faith to not be easily swayed). We believe in Judaism, that’s why we follow what we do. If you were to ask another person, they might say that your faith is not correct. That would be like me telling you that you don’t really like chocolate ice cream. It’s a matter of opinion. You have to do what’s right in your mind. I imagine that we will always be tested and asked why we are Jews and why we follow these “silly laws”. But at this point, I don’t see a clear answer. We do what we believe in, it’s that simple. There will always be bumps along the road, like questioning free will and choks. We just have to follow what we believe is right.
naomi z

December 01, 2006 11:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow, i don't think shira or iris could have expressed my opinion any better. its human nature for anyone to believe the beliefs of what their religion follow. however, in order to believe in it, we must have faith. faith and belief are a major role in religion. without it, we'd be pretty much nowhere. its the same thing with prophecies. like seriously, how do we know that this person telling us the prophecies are just absolutly out of their mind and crazy?! a person must have extreme faith in god, the religion, and the prophecy in order to believe this is so. a huge issue that people deal with today is the fact that people feel they need to believe in the beliefs of their religion because they have to, not cause they really feel in their heart they want to, which may cause a person to drift away from their religion. we may not know the reason for these certain beliefs, but thats what makes us closer to god. we must strive to find the reasons for them, and we may fail, but it's only for our own benefit to better understand god and really feel his presence with us everyday.


- Devora

December 03, 2006 7:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

my comment is not so much answering arella's question but more a comment that i dont think that one should not believe in judaism just because pivital points in history may or may not have been relented by one person. for example many other pivital points in our history have been related by one person. i alos do not think that we should be proving other religions wrong or incoherent because all of their core belief is based on the revaltion of one person. My question is that why did Hashem at certain points feel it nessicary to address all of beni yesroel Himself (assuming that He did) and not always throught a mediator (such as a navi) clearly beni yesroel were supposed to respect the words of a navi and if Hashem did want to do it Himself to stress a point then why didnt He do it again at other pivital points in our history (for example before the destruction of the first beit hamekdash) you could argue that beni yesroel didnt merit it then and that the reason Hashem chose this time at har sini to address bnei yesorel was because these are core beliefs of yesorel but as we learned before yonah that every nevuah is ment to be a lesson and i would think that the ones before the destuction of the first beit hamekdash quite possibly one of the top all time lows for bnei yisroel would surley merit a good enough lesson that Hashem would have to relate it to us?
i hope this made sence
-rachel stern

December 04, 2006 12:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

December 04, 2006 7:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i know everyones said it before, but i think ill say it again-all of bnei israel heard hashem and felt his presence, which was ultimately so big that they couldnt stand it and had to ask moshe to take over with the commandments. also, there were absolutely no witnesses when jesus and mohamed got their so called revelations, but all of bnei israel were there to witness their g-d, and to this day the jews have not faltered in their beleif of hashem as the one and only. i think of bnei israel as one big family (actually they are one)- basically what happened was the story of maamad har sinai was passed down from generation to generation, and it was also written in the torah, so our proof has been around forever- both orally and by book. and this is what makes us different- mahamed and jesus never had anyone to personally back them and their revelations up. hope that made sense.
Aviva

December 10, 2006 9:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, I agree that we have more witnesses to our revelation than the Muslims or Cristians do. Still, we can't say that they have absolutely no data to back them up because, in fact, we havn't researched their religions etc... I heard that several maidservants witnessed Jesus coming back to life. Yes, the word of a few servants doesn't compare to the word of a whole nation, and yes, I don't remember where exactly I heard it, but I'm pretty sure that most other religions do bring forth some type of proof to try to justify themselves. Yes, it's nice to think of the Jews as one big family, but, like any family we get into disputations with ourselves, even on the very tennets of our belief. Sof Davar, we have to learn to recognize that non-Jews are people too and that we have to respect their viewpoints.
-Rachael

December 27, 2006 3:09 PM  
Blogger saragaut said...

i agree with the whole lot of what everyone was saying. the reason that i personally believe moshe is correct is for the same reason that i believe 1+1=2, because i was brought up that way. my whole life i have been taught that moshes prophesies are correct and that the other religion's prophets are incorrect. However, over time i have realized that Judaism, of course takes a lot of faith but at the same time it really does seem like Judaism is fact because all these years the legends have been carried on and believed by hundreds of generations, Another thing that I'm not sure someone mentioned is that christians used the same bible as us and while they percieve it differently and don't follow the same laws as us, the christians have read about moses and are aware of his prophecies. i truly believe that Judaism and moshe bring the truth to us. it has been too many generations of judaism passed on for us not to believe in it. However, none of us can know for sure whether we are right or not, but this is our religion and we do believe that we are correct and that's the only way we can believe moshe was correct. Jews are the people that have survived ages of terror and we are still here so no matter what we are g-d's people and that i what we have to believe.

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